Once you have located the panels you want to record, you will need to spend some time having a rapid but thorough look at the surrounding area (called a ‘walkover survey’). This will give you a better understanding of the terrain, and the history and current use of the landscape. You may even find rock art that has been overlooked in the past. If you can recognise other archaeological monuments and features, these may help you build up an understanding of why the rock art is there, and how it might have been affected over time by human activity (see Finding rock art).
Next, think carefully about how many ‘panels’ you are recording.
Once you have found the rock art, you may find that it is overgrown with vegetation or turf, so that it is difficult to see the carvings and the rock surface. In these cases, some cleaning of the rock is necessary so that you can then make a full and accurate record of the panel. We need to limit the impact on the rock surface, as all interaction affects the carvings.
Please keep any cleaning of the panel to an absolute minimum, such as removing debris with a soft brush. The rock art and rock surface are fragile. Repetitive cleaning will damage the rock surface and may speed up erosion of the prehistoric carvings.
If you do need to clean the panel to record it please make sure that you follow our guidance notes: Preparing the Panel for Recording. These approaches have been developed with the approval of Historic Environment Scotland. If the panel is a Scheduled Monument or within a Scheduled Monument, such as a prehistoric burial, please contact Historic Environment Scotland to enquire about Scheduled Monument consent. Any intrusive work on a Scheduled Monument is illegal.
Creating a good record is vital to future understanding, awareness, and conservation. The methods we use have been developed and thoroughly tested over many years by specialists and community groups in England and Scotland. To find out more about previous community rock art recording projects, such as the Northumberland and Durham Rock Art Project, and Carved Stones Investigations: Rombalds Moor, visit the England’s Rock Art website. We use a combination of techniques to record the rock art and its contexts at different scales. These include:
Before you start, please see our guidance on Recording Rock Art and Sharing Data to find out more about what information to capture about the rock art, the rock surface and the landscape. If you would like any additional detail about any aspect of how and what to record, you can find comprehensive guidance in the information we developed for Scotland's Rock Art Project: Using the Recording Form.
Sketches of the panel location and the carved rock surface help us understand the rock art and its setting. They are also very useful for finding the right panel again in the future. You don’t need to be good at drawing to produce a clear sketch! It is more important that you decide what information other people might need to know, and show this in a way that someone who has not visited the panel can understand.
Sketching can be very enjoyable and will become easier the more you do, so it is well worth practising.
You can find out more about creating a Location Sketch and a Panel Sketch in our guidance on Using the Recording Form. We have also put together some Drawing Conventions which we recommend that you use for all your sketches so that they are consistent and easier to understand.
This means taking a grid reference of the panel so that it can be plotted on a map or satellite image. An accurate grid reference is one of the most important pieces of information to record as it will allow us to explore how the rock art is distributed across Scotland, and how it relates to other monuments and features in the landscape.
How to take an accurate grid reference: Use a hand-held Global Positioning System (
Good photographs are essential for documenting rock art and its surroundings, as well as for helping other people identify the carvings. It can take time to perfect your technique, so it is worth practising, and looking critically at your photographs to see if they could be improved in any way.
Lighting can have a dramatic effect on the quality of your photographs and the visibility of the carvings. Carvings that are virtually invisible under certain lighting conditions (particularly in the middle of the day, or on dull, overcast days), can be incredibly clear at other times of day or year when the light is oblique.
You can find more tips for taking good rock art photographs in our Photography for Rock Art Recording guidance.
Structure from Motion (SfM) is a 3D modelling method for creating digital 3-dimensional (3D) images (or models) of objects from a sequence of 2D photographs. This technique is ideal for recording rock art because it allows us to clearly ‘see’ carvings that are often very eroded and almost invisible to the naked eye. A 3D model recreates the shape and relief of the rock surface (the surface topography), producing a precise replica of the motifs and the rock on which they are carved. This method enables measurements to be taken of the motifs and the rock. Anyone can then study the rock art in detail from the comfort of their own computer. Image-based modelling technology (e.g. photogrammetry) has developed rapidly in the last decade, and it is now inexpensive and very easy to use. You don’t need any special equipment – just a camera and a scale bar.
We used the Structure from Motion (SfM) method, which involves taking multiple, overlapping photographs of a carved rock surface. The photographs are then processed into a 3D model using specific software. The software recognises and matches common points in each photograph, and puts them all together to form a 3D shape. For tScotland's Rock Art Project we used a software called Agisoft Photoscan, but there are other types of freeware available, such as VisualSfM or Regard 3D amongst many others.
See our Field Photography for 3D Modelling for more information about how to use this technique for recording rock art, and Creating a 3D Model for guidance on creating a 3D model using the Agisoft Photoscan software
RTI is used to create digital models from a set photographs taken under controlled lighting conditions. It enables detailed exploration of the rock’s texture, highlighting fine details such as shallow carvings, tool marks, and narrow engraved lines, which are often not visible in the field or in conventional photographs.
RTI is quite simple to use, and becomes easier with practice. We will use RTI to document a few specific panels where we need more detail of the carvings. A selection of the RTI images will be available in the Images section of our website.
This method is inexpensive, but does require some different equipment (such as a black billiard ball!). It involves taking a sequence of photographs from a fixed point, while shining a bright light from different positions towards a particular motif or small area of the carved surface. The black billiard ball (or other shiny sphere), which is placed on the rock surface, reflects the light across the rock and highlights fine details. This detail is then captured in the photographs. The final RTI model is created using special software which stitches all the photographs together. Since the position of the billiard ball is the same in every photo, the software is able to identify the direction of the light sources and create controlled lighting conditions. The lighting conditions can then be manipulated using another free software programme (RTI Viewer) in order to visualize the recorded motif.
You can learn more about the RTI technique, and download the free software from the Cultural Heritage Imaging (CHI) website.
The Scotland's Rock Art Project trained and worked with Community Teams to build a consistent, publicly accessible database of prehistoric carvings using specific recording methods.
Creating detailed, digital records of Scotland's rock art is essential for better understanding, sustainability, and public awareness. You can find out about our recording methods in this section!
Finding rock art is very rewarding, but often quite difficult! In this section we offer a few tips that may help you find those 'hidden' panels.
Before going out and looking for rock art, there are some important things that you should be aware of. You will also need to know what equipment to use. You can find out all about it here!
Follow these simple steps to prepare for a fantastic day out doing fieldwork and recording rock art. Don't forget your wellingtons and waterproofs!
Fieldwork is only one part of the method for recording rock art. In this section you can read about how to process information captured in the field, and how to build 3D models of the carved rocks.
Once you have processed all the information collected in the field, your photographs, and your 3D models, you can upload it to Canmore. Find out how in this section.